Teaching my compost course, one of the points I make a lot is, how much can be got from how little. E.g., from this scrap
spoke by Ereshkigal, Queen of the U-world, to bright canny way out of her depth sis Inanna, on their first meeting in eons – how are you bitch & die – I got, with some photocopier and computer play, to this asemic poem,
which I hope suggests a face to more than pareidoliac me. From there it wasn’t far to this diplomatic transcript –
It’s heady, I guess. These transcriptions of my own asemy are the most conceptual half-book of poetry I’ll ever write, likely. Here’s the page whole, to get down to rude felt stuff again, the undermud.
Inanna’s in some trouble. That’s her, down low at the left, hat knocked off, humbled. I made her, she’s bar codes & engine noise, but I do, and I’m not kidding, feel for her. She could die here. I could die here.
The only student I ever put in a poem took her life this summer.
It was just her first initial, and it became an asemic poem. Still though she was there in it with me. She was a checkout clerk at my grocery store and shooting the shit with her after teaching before walking in my front door softened by day a bit.
Then she was my student and we talked some more. Poems, ups and downs, ways to stay more steady through ups & downs. I hoped so, for her.
You want to save all of them. And you can’t and you shouldn’t try – you’d just become annoying. I did that not long ago, trying to save, not the one in front of me, but the one who’d gone.
The poem’s a picture of the face-to-face A. had inside and almost every time she won. I made the ground before I’d met her but it doesn’t matter. Hell only feels private.
Right so where were we. SCRO will have a life as ink on paper, another as light in the air. That’s what I imagine right now anyway. Both start from a shaken aasemic journal page like this.
The black wavy areas are my fingers (to the left) and wrists (to the right) where they press the paper to the glass. (“Are”?) This one came out unusually white on the left because of how afternoon sunlight had soaked my study just then. The checker pattern on the right’s what my scanner does with a grey that hovers, to its this-or-that B&W mind, discomfitingly between.
The first one to come out white like this was a shock. Shitty shit, I thought, I just got this toner cartridge, I hate going to Office Depot. Then I waited for a cloud, tried again, the scan came out black, I thought aha, oho.
I’d already planned 24 pages, for dailiness, the quotidian, now I saw I needed to do the pages one an hour over the course of a single day. When a learned a week or two later about the Poetry Marathon, I knew what day it would be.
The printed form, if I can find a chapbook publisher willing and able to take this on, will be a continuous scroll of these pages, looking something like this.
Just a mockup, assembled by X-acto knife and scotch tape …
I’ll be starting at 6 am, around sunrise. If the day’s sunny, I should get the brightest backings in mid-afternoon, when my south and west windows take in the sun. From there it will go, as the poet said, into the dark.
The other life I imagine for this – patterns of dark and light cast on a wall.
I opened up iMovie, thinking I’d mess around there for a bit, then learn some real video editing software. But as I hit the program’s limitations, I started to feel they were a help to me – limits I could make constraints on the poem. Plus, holding myself to ordinary means (Sharpie, home-office photocopier, iPhone voice-notes app) suits this project, which is all about nothing special.
Working quickly, not deliberating much, I cropped some 16:9 stills from the page I’d scanned. (At 1200 dpi, the highest res I can. Some kinds of data loss I love. Not pixellation. And if I want these images on the big screen one day.) Here are a few.
Some grabbed me because their language did what it meant.
Here I love Mr. Moustachio. The back-and-forth between him and “angry” feels equally weighted. And the horizontal distortion bar pleases me.
This might be my favourite. A leaf beetle bearing or born of the word “leaf.”
This one’s mostly abstract – I’m keen on the way markings call our language faculty into play without allowing it to resolve in a determinate meaning – but “city” resonated well with the audio clip I had by this point found.
Cuz I’d also begun grabbing clips of ambient sound with my iPhone’s voice-notes app. At first thought I was just practicing for when I could borrow real recording gear. But after a few test clips I found the homemadeness of the sound suited me just fine. Also the sounds of me recording or abiding – shifting in my seat, clinking my coffee cup on the tile coaster.
The audio for the clip I posted yesterday – chainsaw crew next door taking out my neighbour’s lilac, in preparation for raising a new fence – me closing my study window – clink of said coffee cup.
How to put it together? It’s about letting the accidents in – patterns not of my choosing. Including patterns I inherit, my father’s karma, my father’s genes. (Not my choosing or his.) Each page of the scroll takes about a minute to read aloud and I know I might want, in some iterations, to read the poem aloud in company of the moving images.
First decision, each of 24 passages gets a minute each.
So I’m in the realm of number, 24 passages, 60 seconds each. If each still is Phoenician, in a wildering course that never travels wholly out of view of phonetic charactery, for their sequencing in time I’ll go to Babylon, where our minutes and seconds, our degrees and zodiacal houses come from.
I did some reading about 60. It’s a cool number. A unitary perfect number, one of only five known, being the sum of its unitary divisors. A highly composite number, having more factors than any smaller number. An abundant number, the sum of its divisors greater than itself.
Count the joints on the fingers of one hand, once through, thumb doing the counting, you get 12 – that’s a day. Do it with both hands – that’s 24, a day and a night. Do it five times, you get 60. So much for the inevitability of base 10 systems.
Sixty also has a sweet number of factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60.
Decided, each clip will be x seconds long, where x is one of the first ten divisors of 60, randomly generated.
If x yields a sum longer than 60 seconds, discard and generate a new x (as in darts when you’re playing to 300). So clips will tend to accelerate at the end. Whoosh.
The results for x in this clip
were 5, 20, 12, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 5. I got to decide what clips in what order. Also how slow or quick the transition between two clips. One set I set in motion.
Overlaid the soundtrack with no effort to coordinate it to the clips. That the window slides closed just as one black blade glides over another is just good luck.
That so many things are tuned to their neighbours – without any assertion on my part – seems to me more than luck.
One more for ya, different page, sprocket hole study.
If you’ve made it this far. The cross-fade and the “Ken Burns effect” in iMovie can both be cheesy very easily. Have I avoided cheese entirely? Comments section, be honest, I need to know. And thank you for reading.
For a few months now I’ve been laying the groundwork for a new project called SCRO. In a couple of weeks, over a 24 hour span and in the company of a few hundred other poets around the globe (see here), I’m going to generate the images and sounds for the poem actual.
I thought, while I wait for that day – the base text is written and the process mostly set – I’d tell you about the scheme and share a few bits of the mockup.
The base text is 24 pages of journal writing, reworked and streamlined, begun shortly after a visit to my father in California. The visit stirred feelings, worries, memories. Maybe because I was writing in my house, for which my dad helped me secure the loan, the ground of the poem became this house.
The illegibility – you’ll see what I mean – is for how hard it is to get another person. Also for how hard it is to get yourself. Also for my fear my father is slipping away, his mind, to a place where he’s not to be reachable.
Here’s the third page, before any funny business.
I rework the writing a bit, streamline it, but try to preserve the blushful emotional directness. This one’s not so exposing, but later ones, oh yes. I want to work with the language I speak in when I’m speaking just to me and maybe in difficulty. I’m interested in dailiness, inner sounds, outer sounds.
I want to bring the banal into the lyric in way that doesn’t sink my practice but ballasts it. I know some of the known ways: irony and pastiche in written lyric, cadence and insistence in spoken word. But those don’t come to me so natural. So I’m stumbling towards a chimerical way with proprioceptive foreparts and digital hindquarters.
Dude, obscure. I take the page and shiver it on the photocopier in the corner of my study. My gesture, slow, fast, does something to the scripture; the scan bar, turning strokes and loops by light to bits, does something to it en même temps.
I scan that on black-and-white to further the data loss and get
What I’ve called aasemic writing and have written of here.
SCRO as a truncated form of scroll – the form I want it to take. Also escrow – a debt that binds me to my father. Both from a Germanic root meaning shred.
Only later did I realize the sound-cluster calls to mind scrotum. Hello hidden mind (u stinking bastard). That’s what this scroll book is though. Query into the broken unbroken ties between me and my dad that manhood are.
This post’ll need to be in 2 parts. Gotta grill me some chicken and torrent some Mr. Robot. Just quick, I’m looking at two final objects – a scroll I hope I can find some chapbook press willing to fashion, and an audio-video thing I imagine installed big on a gallery wall. Here’s a foretaste:
Mother’s Day’s a hard day for me. My mother and I have been estranged for some years. We’ve started talking a bit by e-mail recently, and that’s good, but this day’s still tough, even with all my humanistic skepticism re: the greeting card–industrial complex.
So I did what I usually do when something tough comes up. In no particular order. Meditated. Neglected the dishes. Wrote in my journal. Cut myself some slack. Stared into space thinking/feeling. Neglected a pile of grading. Pulled some weeds. Chitchatted with neighbours passing.
The journal writing (nothing very new vis-a-vis my mother) (inner mother and outer mother) (a distinction for another post) (one maybe never to be writ) (curious? buy my poetry!) after photocopy mojo looks like this.
Veiled, I know. Do I want you to put the work into decipherment? Ish. Confession, I swing madly between nutshell-to-others and severe overshare. Seriously – I mean no glib appropriation here – I’m close to the spectrum on this one. Can’t figure out the norms, read the signals, can only see the shudder or shoulder-turn when I’ve overstepped.
With that proviso – maybe proof of the point it makes – I’ll for once give the source text of the aasemic text above.
Mother’s Day. Not ever an easy day. With the chime of an email arriving came in quick succession—dread of an email from my mother tearing into me for not writing sooner or in a better way—shame, at that feeling—and, a thought, the connection is broken for good isn’t it. As to that shame: thought later: wherefore? The feeling (dread) verifies itself. I mean I would not feel it if I had never had reason to feel it. So—I thought later working at weeding—instead of shame, maybe, sadness. That I think is what comes in when the shame steps aside a little—sadness, for me, for her too, in the grip of she knew not what———.
I want to affirm three friends, all mothers, who’ve borne me up today.
One, Beth Thomas, an old friend from New York, who told the truth for her about Mother’s Day today on FB and made me feel bold to do likewise.
Another, S., even longer a friend, who wrote to me today
And thinking of you because it’s that day again – how is it that day again so quickly? – and I know it’s a hard one for you. As always, I hope you not just know but believe and feel that you’re loved.
Brings tears cuz I guess I don’t always.
Third, came to me a memory of a student in our program, she’s a mother, maybe a month ago we were both at a reading, her son was with her. And seeing, late in the evening, how heavily and easily her son draped in her arms sleeping – how quietly and carefully she packed up her bag, his toys etc., so as not to wake him – how fixed even so, all the while, her attention was on the reader reading, taking the words in.
Is it strange of me? Do you find it ordinary? It was so moving to me, her undividedness, her totally being nourished by what she was there for – the poetry – and being totally there as what her son needed her to be.
I need, as we all do, to be mother to myself, and lack, as many do, a good interior image of that. And so I savage me.
A lot of my inner life is trying to find relief from that.
Some relief comes from inner resources. Some more comes from chosen works – teaching, say, though I should be grading right now. And some comes from blessings like rain – friendships like these three.
She’s also, that third one, one of the most kickass poets I’ve worked with.
We ask a lot of mothers (fathers also) (children also).
Who are we that we think we get to ask so much.
Donald Drumpf. That’s your koan. Pass it and I’ll vote for you.
Asemic writing is writing you can’t read. Semic writing is writing you can. (A back formation, there’s no such word.) I am at play, finessing the difference, with aasemic writing.
A joy of asemic writing is that it draws all the promise of meaning-making, all the whole multifoliate interpretive apparatus, into activity, w/o resolution or conclusion. It’s Steinian indeterminacy, in not the syntax but the graphemes. It’s the made mark as blastocyst, as stem cell, as potential to become. Is it a Deleuzian plateau? Maybe, still sweating that concept out.
So the aasemic script I’ve been playing with is neither indeterminate nor determinate. (GOD you can take this non-dualist thing too far, mm? how’s this not just centrist squish?) It starts with a journal page transcribed in a projective hand – descender a plunge, cross-stroke a jailbreak. Then I wave or shiver it over the photocopier light bar as it slides under, gathering data in.
All this is lead in to say, The New Post-Literate has posted a few, and that makes me happy, cuz they’re the first bits of Overject to be published, other than here, which don’t count. Here’s the link.
And here are a few other recent offerings there I think especially cool.
The home page of The New Post-Literate where it’s all to be found.
A lot of my trouble w/ academic parlance comes from trying to translate Buddhist vocabulary and values to a non-Buddhist circumstance. Most of the rest of it comes from being a lazy and a lousy Buddhist. (The latter’s 90%.)
Feste to Viola, Twelfth Night, “I am [a] corrupter of words.” After they’ve just rung their changes on live, stand, lie. I compared the move on lie to a triple-axle – Viola to Feste, “yo watch this move” – and one of my students found a sextuple axle in it, bam. Post-structuralism, its insights, e.g., words’re banana peels, dates back at least to Shakespeare, if not to Jesus? “On this rock I build my church,” that’s a pun, Jesus is making a funny, I told them, explaining the finger joints of a dactyl, by way pterodactyl. Petros (Peter), petra (rock). Long live the rhizome. Weed shoot that cracks the rock.
I’ve felt ashamed, in the face of Paris, Homs, Beirut, drowning seas off Turkey and Lesbos, murdered and maimed Frenchwomen and men, Syrian migrants around whom walls of the mind have now reached further skyward, to have been vexed by my little troubles – though for whatever reason, surgery, readiness, the fall’s brought them forward for my study.
But harm is harm. Sometimes we confuse the perspectives of justice and mindfulness. From the perspective of justice (redress) one harm does weigh against another, more, less. From that of compassion, though, there’s maybe just whatever’s in you, filling the cup. To weigh a present this against a remembered that is it-consciousness (Buber). And it-consciousness is the original harm.
What is sin? Distance from God. Don’t believe in God yet I believe that.
I don’t get to separate. That’s the meaning, as I take it, of the precepts my teacher gave me. (He told me the meaning of my name, endless spring, and asked Do you understand. I have the pine needles he brushed my forehead with on my altar.) It means the assholes gunning down concertgoers in a club in Paris are me. The lost boy in Roseburg executing his schoolmates in coldness is me.
I don’t mean I know what it’s like to be them, that would presume. I mean what they’re burning in, I’m burning in.
Shit, I’m going all Christian sounding, or Eliot or something, because I don’t know how to express something I feel as dimly as I do strongly. I just feel it matters how I take care of my undone karma, the busted-up places, even if to a calculative eye, my trials are small to nil.
I don’t get to separate from any of it. All I get is to choose whether or not to create craziness. I’m not ever, as this body, going to pick up a gun. I doubt I’m ever, as this body, going to even punch anyone. But I already have, as the gunner, goddamn him, as the suicide bomber, goddamn him and him and him, and him and him and him – God I want to cut their throats – given up to my craziness and slaughtered scores.
Of course I’m ashamed, of course I’m stricken.
So I’ve been wondering, is there any art, a possibility of art, in my dim stumbling efforts to take charge of my own karma. Harms I’ve received and want not to make more harm of (than I surely already have).
Not an art found by sifting and refining records of those efforts. Rather, could those records, taken whole in all their roughness, with minimal alteration, move. Could there be beauty, insight, transport, in the very awkward transparent mostly untransformed material mess of them.
Here’s one such, a journal entry, lightly edited. It begins as a memory that became an episode of lucid dreaming – the transition is around where “I” kick out the handle of the car door.
I mean it as a visual poem. It has to be handwritten – doesn’t work typed. Every cross-stroke is a jailbreak, the force of the kick breaking the boy free.
For context, since I’m disclosing bravely here, this was a little bit of solo EMDR work. EMDR’s a protocol for working with traumatic memories that instead of describing in detail I’ll just link to here. I picked a memory that was charged, but not too charged, because I’m still learning how to handle this practice, and can easily get overwhelmed by it.
I’m so curious the friend morphs gender. The friend’s my mother and father, I think so, as I knew they could also be. Not as I would get them to be if I were good enough – fuck that, done with that. But as they are now, somehow, in me.
To end, an image I found online, eerily like the very car. Right navy/eggplant colour. BC license plate though the landscape looks more Delta/Surrey than West Van where the memory lives …
ADDENDUM. Came to feel, in the setting of Overject, the text needed more alterity – to be more other to itself. Started playing with moving it on the photocopier glass as the blue light bar moved along under the glass gathering in the image. And found, this was nice, that when I induced the movement that the text, its content, and yes my students I do still care about content, that the text induced in me, waving or trembling or rocking or whatever – that was the image that felt most true.
In the case of the page above (reinscribed) that was this.
Not asemic writing, properly, because it has legibility (versus “is legible”). Aasemic writing?
A hard spell. More than a bit PTSDy after my surgery – anxiety waves, wanting to cry lots, panic in the grocery store. Halloween freaked me the fuck out, roving packs in darkened streets and shouts and bangs at all sides.
The trauma’s been here many years, but hasn’t surfaced like this in a while … all the work I’ve done, it’s done some good. But maybe no surprise a minor surgery (hernia repair) brought it back? A knife’s an insult the body knows of, unconsciousness or no, and frozen there, can do nothing about. And this knife in especial was working not very far, in Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s of Apollo’s of original fire, from that dark centre where procreation flared.
A line from ago I never used and suddenly remember: “Shouts in the street were pieces of me in the mouths of dogs.”
Rousseau had it, I’m sure of it.
[A] word to speak, the least trifle to perform, appear an intolerable labor; everything alarms and terrifies me; the very buzzing of a fly makes me tremble. (Confessions)
This morning I went to the Farmers’ Market and saw Rich and Kendall, also Sean, a former student, and chatting was nice, good. I was looking for herbs to plant in my newly landscaped (or still landscaping) front yard but found instead some apple cider and a chocolate croissant. This afternoon I went to the grocery store and got a flu shot and an anxiety pulse. Tomorrow I’ll drive out to Cloud Mountain Farm and look again for herbs, also fruit trees, apple, plum, frost peach.
My workouts have become meditation by other means – access to inward, when I’m otherwise too distracted or resistant to tune in. So it’s good to be back on the treadmill. Not running, yet, but walking hard up a steep pitch, hard enough for a heartmind opening.
Today it was this. (And tears came in a jag. Which no one can see, nor will anyone, even, if a sob comes loose. Workout a perfected disguise.) There’s a core wound. You can hold it as what’s given to you to hold. Or you can keep living out of it and creating craziness.
This post is actually about a question of genre. Because I can write about this stuff, directly, apparently, in a blog post. And it’s not impermissible either in nonfiction, in memoir. A bit edgy, maybe, but hardly forbidden. But in poetry … no, you can’t do that in poetry, put it in an image, please.
Don’t want it in an image. Want the banal exposed awkward inarticulacy with which it came to me. Because that’s my subject. So fuck peach blossoms and fuck the objective correlative. Here’s what I wrote in my journal when I got home –
– and here’s the notecard I did, yes, transpose it to:
I look about in vain for precedents. Loads of treacly banal sentiment dumps in verse, sure. But I mean legit artistic practices drawing straight from how you speak to yourself about your own feelings and what you do with them and they with you. George Oppen makes concrete poetic objects out of carefully configured abstract surfaces set at colluding angles –
The sad marvels;
Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.
– but his concerns are moral and ontological not psychological (“The self is no mystery …”). In many of Frank Bidart’s poems the speaker wrestles semi-articulately with a tormented inner life –
An adult’s forgiveness of his parents
born out of increasing age and empathy
which really forgives nothing,—
but is loathing, rage, revenge,
yet forgiveness as well—;
– but the poem gets its charge from the distance cut open by a persona.
Is what I want, direct speech of and from an emotional life without resort to irony or persona, just inadmissible in poetry? Why permissible in memoir, but not in poetry, when in so many other respects, they’re known to overlap? And where lives the voice, anyway, that says impermissible?
I wonder how I’ll feel about my little notecard when a few days have passed.
I can say this. It belongs, in intent, to Overject as a whole, which means to translate every feature it can of its source text, a minor didactic Old English poem, into the current moment. For that poem is, I have come to feel sure, a trauma document, full to brim with opacities, deferrals, fractures, hapless power moves, inadvertent tender disclosures.
This too I’ll say, writing it has mattered, as writing about it has mattered.
Before you decide my little notecard belongs in the dustbin of banalities, read it for the thoughts and feelings between its phrases and clauses. Those are the ones I took the most care to articulate.
Hello friends. A three-way conversation between Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, and myself on the life and work of our loved friend Elise Partridge has now gone live at the Winnipeg Review. It’s to be found here.
And, if you’re curious, I wrote a bit about the challenge and wonderment of the conversation itself here. You can read some more about Elise herself here. And Barb’s wonderful blog is here. Steph doesn’t have a blog but here’s her publisher’s page here. Enjoy, please, do.
I hope Elise’s spirit won’t mind me appending this.
I was invited to a celebration of Rosh Hashanah tonight and we were asked as part of our lovely evening to express an intention for the year to come. Mine was, to be more patient with others and myself. What’s this have to do with Elise? She wasn’t especially patient with herself or others. In fact I loved her impatience, it was was wise, it was holy! At least when she was skewering someone’s pretensions it was, very.
But my impatience is most often crap. (And that, that’s impatience with impatience. Yeah baby gotcha.) And I’ve just now started sitting zazen again, after years off the cushion, and I’m feeling what a difference it makes to be okay with not getting it exactly right all the time. And a little bit more patient with me, I’m a little more so with some other, too. Does seem to go that way.
Came as this a few ago
Kshanti paramita =the perfection of patience, or patience beyond patience. Patience so sunk in itself you might not recognize it as patience. That was Elise, too. Barb, Steph, tell me, wasn’t it?
Whereas it’s been long since a post. Whereas we’re all about repurposing here. And whereas I resist going back to work on a panel proposal. Herewith, the juicy bits from a grant proposal, wherein The Poet Asks for $$ to Learn to Flash Adobe.
I’ll begin with a passage I’ve translated from an untitled Old English poem found in the Exeter Book –
Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;
in greatness gives and keeps counsel,
they make a house, two
of one mind.
A selection process, adapted from poets Ronald Johnson and Jen Bervin and now in general use among restless poets everywhere, yields a visual pattern to work with:
The selected text also generates, with some recombinations, a verbal poem –
– but I’ll focus here on my work with the selection marks, for that is where my practice, though first inspired by visual artist Tom Phillips, largely departs from other practices I know of. It’s here too that my practice points towards terrain I’d like funding to explore.
Elaboration of the selection marks goes through several stages, like so,
to produce an image
somewhere in a dream terrain where Salvador Dali and Jim Henson commune with Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The images are an exploration of pareidolia, the mind’s tendency to make faces at the drop of a hat. They exhume natural and biological forms latent in the alphabet (“A” – ox; “N” – water; “O” – eye). They tap into the animism residual in the process of silent solitary reading (see David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous). And they undertake a fitful and pataphysical, i.e., seriously unserious, investigation of the mystical dimensions of the material text (see bpNichol, “Probable Systems 14: Re-Discovery of the 22 Letter Alphabet”).
Their main shortcoming, as I look at them now in Dumuzi (recently finished) and Overject (presently underway), is that they have had to sit still.
I want in my next project to animate them – to put the demonic, angelic, and zoological forms that arise through the illumination process into motion. Even more, I want to animate the illumination process itself, obviating the need for clumsy accounts like the one just finished. I envision digital publication and performance events, the latter more akin to video installations in gallery spaces than to conventional poetry readings.
Demons and angels weightless shadows across wall, floor, ceiling. Let’s see if I can stand to learn the program though. It’s that or start the search for – my collaborator.